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Crested Butte mayoral candidates lay out differences at run-off forum

Issues from Big Mine to Brush Creek addressed by Schmidt and Ladoulis

by Mark Reaman

The two candidates in the Crested Butte mayoral runoff election took the stage of the Mallardi Cabaret Thursday, December 7 in front of a holiday set and tried to distinguish themselves for voters who will choose the leader of the Town Council for the next two years.

Chris Ladoulis and Jim Schmidt topped the votes in November’s election in a four-man race and were thrown into the runoff that ends December 19. The candidates showed many areas of commonality, some differences on issues, and differences in style.

When each had the opportunity to ask a question of the other, they both went to the perceived negative issue of the other candidate: the general perception of Schmidt as a representative who often sits on the fence over controversial issues until the last minute; and the perceptions of Ladoulis as sometimes having had lukewarm enthusiasm and a lack of time commitment to the council during his recent four-year term.

Schmidt touted his experience as a primary reason for running. “No member of the current council has more than two years’ experience and three are brand new,” he said. “With the recent retirement of much of the senior town staff it is essential to have a person with institutional knowledge and proven leadership to lead this council.”

Ladoulis said the town is always struggling to find a balance with almost any issue and he wants to help find a good balance moving into the town’s future. “The changes coming at us are coming faster and are more powerful. I feel like we need a mayor who will be thoughtful but very decisive and be very consistent so you will always know where I stand.”

Citizens submitted questions for the candidates and Schmidt and Ladoulis touched on several topics.

Short-term rentals

When it came to the recently passed ordinance limiting vacation rentals in town, Schmidt voted for the new regulations and Ladoulis voted against them.

“The STR [short-term rental] ordinance was one of the most difficult things to come before council because both sides had very good reasoning,” said Schmidt. “The end result was a compromise. It is different from other communities’ rules on short-term rentals. I think it is a fair compromise that gives something to the locals but limits the commercialization of the residential areas. It is a good step.”

“I supported the idea but not the final version,” countered Ladoulis. “A lot of my issue was that the compromise struck was to expand short-term rentals into places like the Verzuh annexation, the tourist [T] zone and the mobile home zones that were previously insulated from the short-term rental market with some small exceptions. I felt the higher density area just east of Sixth Street and the mobile home district needed to be preserved so there wasn’t STR pressure. The Verzuh annexation had also been somewhat insulated from STRs. That was why I voted against Ordinance 6. I am glad we have caps on short-term rentals. Our town needs it. I consistently argued we needed a way for a distinction to be drawn between those who own and live in their homes and wanted to rent their houses and those who own property for STRs.”

Top priorities for each

Answering a question from the audience, Schmidt said his top two priorities are affordable housing and the Mt. Emmons mine situation. “We probably need to up the density for deed-restricted housing on the town-owned land at Paradise Park and land coming in with Cypress annexation. The second important issue is the mine,” he said. “It has faded a bit into the background but we need to be aware of that situation and keep on top of it.”

Ladoulis said the mine issue was important as well. At the top of his priority list, however, is a strategic plan. “Without a plan I fear that we will have more change and growth than we want and end up with a less desirable place than we hoped. We need to plan and prioritize what is most important to us and figure out how we execute it. We need to look at our economy and one challenge is that we have a July-focused tourist economy with lower-paying jobs. I’d like to see employers have opportunity for more full-time, year-round jobs in our community with less reliance on tourism as the primary driver.”

Off-season

Asked by Jim Michael if either candidate would totally embrace Jackson Petito’s recent political statement that the town “should not grow by one more visitor or shorten off-season by one more hour until we make what we have today sustainable,” both said they agreed with the “sentiment” of the statement.

Ladoulis, however, disagreed with Petito’s off-season stance. “I believe there are a lot of people, especially in the business community, who would like to be busy in October and November. We are so busy in July that we need October and November to rest. But I would happily give up half our business in July if you’d give it to me again in October and November.”

Schmidt agreed with Petito’s sentiment as well but didn’t think it was realistic. And he said Ladoulis’ vision to significantly grow off-seasons was also probably not realistic. “We are what we are,” he said. “It’s beautiful in the summer and a ski area in the winter. That’s when most people can come here. We have two long off-seasons. I happen to love June because it’s not that busy and it is beautiful. It’s the right amount. The weather is great and I am glad I’m not working all the time in June.”

Asking each other about their perceived weakness

When it came time for the candidates to ask each other a question, Schmidt noted that Ladoulis had missed a lot of council meetings and his enthusiasm for council had “waxed and waned… Do you have the time and dedication for the job of mayor?”

Ladoulis said he thought he could do a better job as mayor than as councilmember. “The mayor has the same vote as the other six but has tremendous influence over the agenda. I was on the fence going into the election and decided I needed to be either all-in or all-out. As for the time, you make the time when something is important. I will be committed and be here every week and make every single meeting.”

Ladoulis said Schmidt’s position on a proposed Comedy Festival last summer has changed. Part of the proposal was to expand the Big Mine Arena to accommodate 1,000 people for shows associated with the festival. “You were for it then and it sounds like you are against it now. Where do you stand on the Comedy Festival?”

Schmidt gave some history of his association with the idea and then went to the bigger picture. “People have accused me of being wishy-washy over the years,” he said. “If I’ve been wishy-washy it’s been to get good results. You don’t get a town this good by being wishy-washy. You take in comments from everybody and listen. One of the toughest things on the council is if you are on the minority on the council is to not just fight for the minority position but to go with the majority position and make it the best it can be.”

Brush Creek conundrum

Both candidates support more affordable housing but had real issues with the 240-unit rental project being proposed at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135.

Schmidt said the pushback on Brush Creek is primarily because of the density and the income figures involved with the project. “Over the years I’ve fought strongly for every affordable housing project ever proposed in the valley except the Brush Creek project,” said Schmidt. “This project is way too big. I never imagined 240 units on that parcel of land. Given AMI [Average Median Income] figures and the amount of money people need to make to even get to the 100 percent AMI figure of $49,000, what they are talking about out there is a false affordable project,” he said.

“There’s a lot not to like about the Brush Creek proposal,” said Ladoulis. “But I think we often get sucked into the details because that’s the way the proponent wants it. Sometimes the devil is the details. What we should be talking about is what should affordable housing look like in the town and in the north end of the valley. We need people to live and work in the same community. This project is two miles south of town when the need is in Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte. With master leases with Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the hospital and Western tying up most of the first phase, we have an employee housing project funded by taxpayers that impacts the town of Crested Butte more than any other municipality.”

Ladoulis said based on the Needs Assessment study, the free market should be participating in building housing and the actual amount of public subsidized housing needed should be 93 units, not 240 units. And he said only 30 of the proposed Brush Creek units apply to people making less than 80 percent AMI. “To me that’s like fishing with dynamite. The Brush Creek project needs to get smaller, be more affordable and be split up to put the housing where the jobs are.”

Strategic planning

Ladoulis wants to see more concrete planning in town. “I absolutely support the idea of a strategic plan. And then we need to execute the plan,” said Ladoulis. “I have said repeatedly that we need to know where we are going if we hope to get there. We need to have a plan so we can follow it. The best way to be effective is for everyone to know what we’re talking about and what is important to us. I want it to guide every meeting and not just collect dust on a shelf.”

“We differ on this because I think we already have a lot of plans,” said Schmidt. “We have a traffic plan, housing plan, energy plan, parks plan. Zoning is a very strong plan. We should review them all. But I think in some ways we have been overly consulted. I really think we have the resources between the planning department and the council. We have a good feel for where we are going. And I am afraid a new strategic plan will sit on the shelf. We don’t have to reinvent everything every five or six years.”

Other stuff

Other topics they touched on were improving communication and relationships with the county, which have lately been strained. Both said they have good, personal relationship with the county commissioners. Both said mitigating the impacts of increasing backcountry use was important and lauded the Crested Butte Conservation Corps and Mountain Manners programs the town has helped fund. The Big Mine Warming House expansion project has not been completed and several people wanted to know if the candidates would commit to seeing it finished. Both noted the high cost of the proposed expansion but said they would work to move it along. In a similar vein, both candidates said they would commit to help the Trailhead Children’s Museum find a permanent home. Both candidates said they wanted the town to become more “green” and sustainable. Both said they would commit Crested Butte to be run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and ask the council to vote to commit to the Paris Climate Accord.

The entire forum can be heard at KBUT.org.

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